Action can be kinda fun!

A group of pleasant, like-minded Berkeleyites gathered at an office in south Berkeley to write postcards last night as part of the national #IdesofTrump movement to let 45 know how we’re feeling.

Indivisible Berkeley supplied lots of pre-addressed postcards, which made it go much faster. The first few hundred were pre-stamped as well. We kept writing as someone went out to buy more stamps, and volunteers were at the ready to apply postage to all the unstamped ones, so they would all be mailed today, the Ides of March.

Some folks brought their own cards, so there was a true variety represented, including photos of people forming the word “RESIST!!” on the beach to kittens telling off Donald in their own cute way.

Some people wrote a little, and some wrote a lot. Artistic types drew pictures. At first, some seemed hesitant, unsure of what exactly they were supposed to write and whether they were supposed to sign their names or not. But once the ink got flowing, it was hard to stop. Mostly, we wrote in silence until someone new would show up and we welcomed them, or someone left and we wished them well in their future resistance efforts. Occasionally people shared the contents of their postcards and snapped photos for their Facebook pages.

I started out thinking I would just come up with something pithy and stick to it–that probably being the most efficient method. But writing became cathartic, and I found myself using words to express my frustration, despite the knowledge that 45 would never actually see my words.

Sometimes I was to the point.

“Resign already!”

Sometimes I just wrote what was in my head.

“If I said ‘pretty, pretty please,’ would you go away?”

Sometimes I even got personal.

“You are mean, and I don’t like you, even a little bit.”

And occasionally I put on my educator hat.

“You make bad choices, Donald. If you were a schoolyard bully, I could talk to you. But unfortunately you’re president, so you just need to resign.

signed, a teacher”

I’m willing to admit that I was starting to have fun. One of the last ones I wrote was kind of mean.

“I know you don’t know how to read, but please find someone to read this to you: It’s time to go home now.”

It’s not too late–send your postcard today. It feels really good. To see others, go to IB’s Facebook page.



Depression is not the muse I asked for:

A make-it-up-as-I-go-along survival guide to the Trump era

I used to call myself a writer.


Not that I made a living from it, but I have spent a significant portion of time in various writing pursuits over the last eight years, at least enough to justify my business card, I think.


I still make grocery lists–does that count?


I didn’t post anything on my blog for a whole month. I did have a fully composed piece ready to send out; but for some reason, I hadn’t published it. So, it was late, but luckily, it wasn’t one of those pieces that is time sensitive. Not like news.

Ah, news. In the last few months, I’ve desperately subscribed to more news sources to try to keep on top of what’s happening to our country. I want to be informed. It strikes me as masochistic, but I crave news more than ever, now that the news is nearly always bad and I feel as if we’re losing ground on a daily basis. One only has to hop onto Facebook or turn on the TV to glimpse basic liberties crumbling beneath our feet.

So despite the increase in reading about current events, I had not heretofore felt compelled to write about them. In fact, I rarely thought about blogging at all, depressed as I was about impending fascism. Like many other like-minded people since the recent presidential election, I’ve felt distraught, overwhelmed, and rather joyless at our immediate prospects in the good old U.S. of A.

But I’ve decided that wallowing in self-pity would mean that they win–they being the cabinet from hell, the Republican wusses who are too cowardly to rein in their party leader, the evil Steve Bannon, and of course, the Cheetoh-in-chief himself.

Last year my goal was to walk all the paths of Berkeley, and I had thought, once upon a time, that I might branch out to Oakland, Albany, and El Cerrito this year on a similar quest. But in January, when I was considering my annual resolution, I didn’t have the heart or energy to embark on such an expedition. I put off setting any goals and kept myself otherwise occupied.

fetal-positionNow I see what I must do to stay sane. Instead of throwing my hands up when I read about immigration bans, I can do a little research and write to my congressperson. Rather than ranting to the dog about how fascism starts with gagging the media, I will write my thoughts on Facebook to provoke conversation. As a more productive alternative to curling into a fetal position over our doomed education system with Betsy DeVos at the head, I can write a short play condemning 45’s cabinet picks. I might as well use my anger to fuel my writing. It’s more productive than sitting behind my desk and seething, right?

I recently happened upon a Robert Frost quote that struck me as a propos at this point in history:

“The best way out is always through.”

Rather than fleeing to Canada or staying in bed until this administration passes, I plan to make it through this presidency. And since I’m non-violent, I will go through it not with fists flying but with fingers flying over my keyboard.


Now I have a new path to follow. Won’t you join me?

Theater Around the Bay: Tanya Grove, Caitlin Kenney, & Vince Faso of “Where There’s a Will” & “Why Go With Olivia?”

San Francisco Theater Pub

The Pint-Sized Plays just got a great review (complete with Clapping Man) from SF Chronicle theater critic Lily Janiak, and they have 1 more performance, next Monday the 29th. In the meantime, here’s another in our interview series with Pint-Sized folks.

Vince Faso is directing 2 shows in Pint-Sized this year: “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, and “Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney. In “Where There’s a Will,” Will Shakespeare  (Nick Dickson) visits a contemporary bar and finds inspiration in an unlikely source: a young woman named Cordelia (Layne Austin), whose dad is about to draw up his will. Meanwhile, Lily’s review aptly describes “Why Go With Olivia?”  as “an epistolary monologue from perhaps the world’s most ruthless email writer, played by Jessica Rudholm.”

Here’s our conversation with Caitlin, Vince, and Tanya!

IMG_20160809_170616 Caitlin Kenney at Crater Lake.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized this year?

Caitlin: I…

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Perks of being a playwright

Nick, me, Layne & Vince@ Pint-sized Fest
Nick, me, Layne & Vince after night 1 of the Pint-sized Play Festival

Writing isn’t a lucrative career–certainly not at my level–but it’s incredibly rewarding. I love writing and would do so even if nobody else read my words. When I wrote a novel for middle-grade kids, I was over the moon when I thought it was on the path to publication. But it never happened. My husband, my daughter, my writing critique group, and my agent read it, but it never reached its target audience. Sigh.

But being a playwright has a distinctive benefit. Getting plays produced locally means I actually get to sit in the audience and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. It is just about the best feeling in the world to hear laughter all around you when actors utter your words (presuming, of course, that your intention was to be funny).

Layne & Nick
Layne & Nick rehearsing

Tonight is a big night for me because I have several friends joining me to see my short play, “Where There’s a Will,” at PianoFight, part of SF Theater Pub‘s Pint-sized Play Festival. I have a great director, Vince Faso, who is also a middle-school drama teacher. My cast is the talented and beautiful Layne Austin, who plays Cordelia, and comically gifted Nick Dickson, who gets to be the time-traveling bard.

The rules for this festival is that all the plays must be ten minutes or shorter, the setting has to be a bar, and someone is required to finish a pint of beer during the piece. Is that great or what?

Eleven short plays are on tap (pun intended), and they range from hysterical to poignant. Some cover life’s bigger moments–a bat mitzvah, divorce, death. Some capture unlikely scenarios, such as running into Shakespeare in a bar and a pontificating, philosophical drunken llama. (In fact, there are so many different kinds of plays that if one isn’t your cup of tea, another one happens before you’ve had a chance to think too much about it! But I enjoy them all.) It’s a fairly roomy space, but because it’s not only a pub but a restaurant with tables to accommodate the dinner crowd, there is a limit to how many people you can cram into available spots. Luckily, the food is good and there’s a full bar, so we’re planning to arrive early and eat dinner while we stake out seats.

If you come tonight (Tuesday, August 23, 2016), find me and say hello! I’ll be the one beaming and surrounded by friends and family. Although I suppose with eleven playwrights represented, there may be others beaming as well…

You can still see the festival 8:00-9:30 tonight or catch its final performance next Monday, August 29. PianoFight is at 144 Taylor Street in San Francisco’. Oh, and it’s FREE!

Is one ever too old to be sending fan mail?

Photo courtesy of Lauren Gunderson’s website.

Playscripts is this awesome publisher that puts a different play online each week to allow people the opportunity to read plays that they might not otherwise have access to. I’ve rarely taken advantage of this generous offer, but I found myself clicking on the link during a spare moment and saw that Lauren Gunderson’s I and You was the play of the week.

I’ve been lucky enough to see several of Gunderson’s plays–Ada and the Engine, Bauer, By and By, and a staged reading of The Revolutionists–and I believe she is a great talent. She also happens to live nearby and taught a play-writing class that I attended a few years ago at the Playwright Foundation.

So I dove into the play, knowing nothing about it. And I am so glad I did because it touched me like no play has in a long time. (And I go to the theater a lot.) I laughed and cried and laughed and cried some more. By the end, I was sobbing, but in a good way.

Staged in one room with only two characters, it first appears to be a simple story of two teens working on a class project together. Caroline has become a shut-in due to a medical condition, and Anthony must convince her that Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is worthy of her attention so that she will help him get a good grade on this multi-media assignment.

But there are so many layers, authentic emotions and reactions, humor, and such heart that I fell in love with these characters and truly cared what happened to them. After I finished reading it, I was so overcome by emotion that I just had to let Lauren know how it affected me. So I sent her a rather gushing e-mail to thank her for her beautiful play.  I hope she doesn’t think I’m a stalker or anything, but I figured when a work of art grabs your heart that way–and you happen to have the artist’s e-mail address from having taken a class from her–then you should let said artist know. Right? It’s not like I’m following her home and trying to peek in her windows.

So, at 53, I think I just sent my first piece of fan mail…

Emerging from the bedsheets

nyquilOkay, I wasn’t deathly ill, but I was stuck in bed from Monday afternoon until Sunday morning. Symptoms? Achy, coughing, weak, and just generally feeling like shit. Today I actually wore something other than pajamas for the first time in almost a week, and it feels really good.

I missed many days of copyediting, a friend’s reading, a chance to sub and make some money, my hip-hop class, and a friend’s birthday bash. But I saw all ten episodes of the TV series American Crime in two days, and all available episodes of You, Me, and the Apocalypse. My original plan was to finally watch Season 3 of The Wire, which everyone else saw, like a dozen years ago, but for some reason HBO/Go wasn’t cooperating. I also played a ridiculous number of games on my phone, including one that I’m inexplicably addicted to called Trouble Brewing. I am now able to virtually brew 42 coffee drinks of varying stripes in two minutes. Don’t ask me what this skill is preparing me for. I suppose it’s more practical than Angry Birds…

Anyway, I am so happy that I’m now well enough to go out into the world. I celebrated by going to Safeway for groceries. I swear the checkers looked older than when I saw them last.

Since it wasn’t a stomach bug, I probably gained five pounds because (1) my activity level was non-existent, and (2) I ate three chicken pot pies, one of which was Marie Callender’s. I actually looked it up, and it’s 16 points in the Weight Watchers universe. For those of you who are familiar with these points, be forewarned. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, be thankful.

The one productive thing I was able to do with a low-grade fever was write my 10-minute play submission for March, which feels more like fun to me. If it gets selected for production, I may have a new working model for my writing time.

Go see Ada and the Memory Engine now!

Ada Lovelace
A portrait of the real Ada Lovelace

The advantage in seeing a production in previews is not only that the ticket is cheaper but that I get to help promote a show when there’s still plenty of time for others to see it.

I enthusiastically recommend Ada and the Memory Engine, Lauren Gunderson’s latest tour de force, playing at the Berkeley City Club in an intimate space. (I counted only 50 seats.) It’s the story of Ada Lovelace, who is raised by her mother to be a mathematician, mostly to counteract any possible genetic predisposition toward poetry. Ada’s father was the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, who was a bit of a ladies’ man, to say the least. Subsequently, mom and dad did not separate on good terms. Despite mama’s best efforts, Ada manages to connect with her late philandering father, most directly through his famous lyric poem, “She Walks in Beauty.”

Ada meets Charles Babbage, the person who first imagined the engine that became what we know today as the computer. She becomes not only his inspiration but is the one who translates his ideas to text and gives them some necessary structure along the way. Charles was big on ideas but not a man of action.

a difference engine, imagined by Babbage

It’s a tale interwoven with math, love, aspirations, family obligations, and even the old nature versus nurture argument. Kathryn Zdan plays the passionate Ada with gust–when Zdan is on stage, all eyes are drawn to her. Kevin Clarke portrays the complicated Babbage with finesse. The two other actors do wonderful jobs of portraying the four other characters distinctly, and Josh Schell’s turn as “the man” is particularly engaging.

Because the performance space is not a stage, the blocking had to be particularly inventive, and director Gary Graves came through with flying colors. Although Ada is not a musical, there is some singing and dancing. The singing was fine, and the song fit the mood well. Dance enriched the play both as a vehicle for formal Victorian courtship and for foreshadowing Ada’s relationship with her mentor. Where it was less successful on stage was at the end when it was trying to be a metaphor when none was needed. Perhaps the choreography was just not my cup of tea, but I felt the script was so strong that the dancing at the end was superfluous. But this was a tiny flaw that did not detract from my overall enjoyment of what was otherwise a scintillating evening of theater.

Co-produced by Central Works and the Playwright Foundation, Ada is showing through November 22. But if you want to go, you should reserve tickets now because many shows dates already sold out.